What does color say about your brand?

Color is one of the simplest and most effective visual tools we have in design. As designers, we like to select swatches that personally grab our attention, but there is so much more to selecting color than personal preference. Working with clients on color philosophy is one of our favorite parts of the branding process. When done correctly, this effort can greatly influence a brand. There are many components to effectively using color in branding. We thought we’d share a few of the concepts.

Our philosophy: Color deserves consideration on it’s own and not in series or group. We believe the goal of any brand should be to “own” its color. A primary color can be paired with a complementary neutral palette, but one color needs to be dominant. There are many interesting case studies about companies who “own” a single color as a result of branding – from Sweet and Low “pink” to Home Depot “orange” to our personal favorite “Tiffany blue.”

Let’s contrast the corporate identities of two strong companies, one with a brand featuring a single color, and the other with a brand featuring multiple colors. For example, FedEx and UPS.

FedEx chose a vibrant orange and rich purple to separate the company from the mundane atmosphere of the stereotypical mailroom. These colors gave significance and importance to the priority overnight service for which FedEx is so famous. That makes a lot of sense to us.

However, when Fedex re-branded a few years ago, it instituted a more complex brand architecture – using different colors paired with Fedex purple to delineate sub-brands (e.g.., FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Office, FedEx Freight, FedEx Custom Critical, and so on).


Logo Comparison

We think it’s great branding strategy to create individual identities between products and services. That said, we question if Fedex chose the ideal color strategy. The various Fedex colors serve the purpose of calling out the sub-brands, but also dilute the overall parent brand. Why? Use of multi-colors in branding takes away from the notion of the company owning a single color in the consumer’s mind.

Now, contrast the FedEx strategy with its biggest competitor, UPS. UPS has embraced “brown.” By making a traditionally lackluster color the cornerstone of all its branding efforts, UPS now “owns it.” UPS continues to be the market leader producing more revenue and market growth than FedEx. It’s simple genious: “what can brown do for you?”


Emotional Color Wheel

In Western cultures, colors are typically perceived to possess certain qualities. So, in branding, we select colors that embody emotional personas. To prove the point, ask yourself if you would trust your financial future to a bank with a pink logo or would you feel more at ease with a green or blue branded financial institution?

As designers, we often use an “emotion color wheel” to help us choose more objectively what colors best speak to brand attributes. It minimizes subjectivity and personal taste, narrowing the field of color emotions that will strike a cord with the intended audience.


Logo Color Wheel

Lastly, it is important to select a color that is competitive. The UPS brown is in stark contrast to the Orange and Purple FedEx hung its hat on. Another example is Starbucks choice – why green? Mainly, because no other competitor was using it at the time. For instance, Dunkin’ Donuts utilizes orange and pink. The coffee at Dunkin’ Donut’s is significantly cheaper and in some circles considered better. Still, nothing can dispute the success and dominance of Starbucks in the coffee market. Understanding the competitive color landscape and using that knowledge is key to carving a niche in today’s cluttered market place.

Let us know what you think about the application of color in branding and it’s effects on moving the needle of customer loyalty.